I have an idea.
In the future whenever you hear someone falsely say that there are no atheists in foxholes, don’t disagree with them.
Don’t point out to them that this insults the bravery of countless non-theist soldiers by implying that without belief in God and an afterlife no one would ever courageously put his or her life on the line fighting in a just war. Don’t point out to them that there are countless atheists who do remain intellectually convinced of the non-existence of God even when it means facing the prospect of their impending mortality (or other fearful adversities). Don’t point out to them that even when otherwise rationalistic people desperately resort to superstition under great emotional stress this neither proves the existence of God nor proves that people’s reflective anti-superstitious judgments in calmer moments are either insincere or ill-considered.
At least don’t bring these things up first.
Rather first just nod your head vigorously in agreement and say right back, “Exactly! And there are no Christians in med school.”
Because of course true believers don’t believe in medicine when Jesus has told them that whatever they ask for in his name, they shall receive (John 14:14). Unlike lying atheists, Christians don’t convince themselves to take practical measures to take care of things for themselves before winding up in a foxhole. From the start Christians acknowledge God and just pray for everything they want and stop trying to do things for themselves. From the start Christians know that by faith alone they can tell mountains to move and they will move (John 14:13), so who needs to study medical techniques when their faith in Jesus is so much more powerful and effective! Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7). He didn’t say “study and you shall learn, research and you shall discover, or practice and you shall heal”. So, of course, there are no Christians in med school!
Of course if we say this to Christians they will see the obvious stupidity of it. Christians know full well that the overwhelming majority of modern day believers fully understand the need to trust in modern medicine, even as they also pray. While they insist on believing (or at least hoping) that prayer somehow can help too, they do not see it as a substitute for competent, scientifically informed medical attention. And they also are probably totally unpersuaded when atheists falsely accuse them of doing nothing but praying. They are about as unconvinced by this mischaracterization of themselves as atheists are by the insulting claim that we would be exposed as either actual believers or cowards if only we were put under enough duress.So, when they say, “There are no atheists in foxholes”, you say, “And there are no Christians in med school!” and then you can both agree to relegate such strawmen to the fire and talk about the real issues:
Should prayer be believed in at all when the only evidence believers have for its effectiveness are obvious cases of confirmation bias? After receiving medical assistance, is it morally appropriate to redirect gratitude away from the actual people who actually healed you and all the people who did extensive research over centuries to create the techniques to prolong and re-empower your life to an unlikely, invisible being who, even if it does exist, was perfectly content to let people languish in misery and die early, painful deaths for many millennia until they slowly and arduously figured out how to combat that misery for themselves?
Is it decent or selfish to believe that an omnipotent being opted to specially aid you while so many others died with your same basic condition because of inadequate access to medical attention or a different physiological turn of events beyond the doctors’ control? And is not Jesus’s reputation for moral perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence ruined since he either lied (at least in the form of exaggeration) when claiming that anything believers requested would be granted them or he did not know what he was talking about or was not able to deliver, or some combination of all these? Do not Christians tacitly accept that Jesus’s audacious claims are not entirely true when they take up medicine?
And is it really rational to think that how people think and act when frightened gives a greater insight into either metaphysical truths or the most responsible method of forming beliefs? Is it a higher view of humanity to idealize a person who is willing to hold fast to the truth even in the face of death or disappointment or to idealize a person who cowardly and desperately reverts to falsehoods because he cannot bear reality? Is it better to idealize the heroism of the one who puts her life on the line not believing she will ever get it back or the one who puts it on the line believing she is really not losing anything since there is an afterlife? Which is actually more heroic, nobler, and more worthy of our admiration?
In short, there are theists in med school, there are atheists in foxholes, and there are lessons to be learned from both these facts if we ask the right questions.